Bent SØRENSEN (b. 1958) Intermezzi from “Under himlen” (Under the Sky) (2003) [27:16] Sounds Like You (2007-08) [45:20]
Marie Louise Wille (actor); Lore Lixenberg (mezzo); Signe Asmussen (mezzo)
Danish National Vocal Ensemble
Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. DR Koncerthuset, 9-12 September 2009 (Sounds Like You) and 5-7 June 2013 (Intermezzi). DACAPO 6.220632 SACD [72:36]
Hard to define and quantify while at the same time distinctive and compelling, Bent Sørensen’s music is the sort of thing that would give contemporary music a good name if only our zap culture had more time to stand still and appreciate it.
This superbly produced and executed recording takes us into Sørensen’s operatic world. The five Intermezzi form a concert suite from his opera Under the Sky, using texts by Peter Asmussen. This is a work that actually took form independent from the actual opera, so it shouldn’t really be seen as a set of highlights, though each movement indicates from where it comes in the opera. The complexities of text and narrative can be assimilated on repeated listening, but the first impressions are of multi-layered activity, perspectives inviting us to zoom in on details and little fragments of recognition in sonority or musical content, elsewhere leaning back and presenting a spread of surrealist sound-worlds. There's always a lightness of touch, a feeling of dance and airborne movement, sometimes innate and hidden but always suggested and on occasion taking us to places of dream-like nostalgia.
The text is delivered by two mezzo-sopranos whose characters gradually grow together in love from opposing positions of cold and warmth. Magical moments such as an actual Intermezzo, a distant sounding orchestral section before the final, deeply expressive movement, keep us in thrall from beginning to end. This is a ‘micro-opera’ that works very well indeed at every level.
Sounds Like You, another collaboration with writer Peter Asmussen, is a “strange hybrid of concert hall and music drama” with plenty of spatial goings-on to make the SACD surround-sound very worthwhile indeed. Voices can come from all over the place, and the recording really puts you into the middle of the theatrical picture. The only problem with this theatre is the language barrier, with large tracts of spoken Norwegian to deal with. The booklet does give a full English translation, so if you really want to know what’s going on there’s no real problem, and the superb music makes any extra effort really worthwhile.
There is more spaciousness and atmosphere in the music of Sounds Like You when compared to the more compressed and intense Intermezzi, but the sonorities and musical interest is every bit at the same high level. In broad outline the narrative “revolves around a fragile, hopeless love … It is like Chinese boxes, a mirror within a mirror … They listen … but who is listening to whom?” Public and performance become fluid and almost interactive, with the chorus placed throughout the auditorium and ‘becoming’ the audience – something which can only really work as a live experience, though we do hear some responses from the actual audience during this performance. These and other effects, such as mobile phones with specially composed ringtones going off, work as remarkable added dimensions to an already rich and vibrantly poetic score, and none of the techniques thrown in sound like cheap tricks. Everything is subtly integrated and nothing is wasted, with form, flow and expressive shape all carrying us through a strange and not always comfortable world, but one in which we linger with singular delight.
It is not difficult to become immersed in Sounds Like You, and once inside this world you should find yourself in a magical and moving space filled with mystery and rarified thrills. I sincerely commend it to your attention.